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Review: 2016 Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription

Kamil Kaluski August 1, 2016 Featured, Reviews, Volvo Reviews 41 Comments

2016 volvo xc90 t6 side

In the not too distant past Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo were all part of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group. Ford sold off each of those brands, while keeping Lincoln and killing Mercury. Interestingly, since then, one by one, those brands started turning themselves around. It took a little time but each brand introduced attractive new products. With fewer shared parts and increased quality, sales and profits went up. Except for the Lincoln brand which is still under Ford’s management, still confused, still struggling.

The new XC90 is the first all-new Ford-free Volvo. It is a vehicle that they had to get right. The premium three-row crossover SUV is probably the most competitive vehicle segment today. To stand out, the new XC90 had to attractive, safe, luxurious, and reasonably priced. Judging by its looks and the numerous accolades the XC90 has received, Volvo has a winner on their hands. But is there more to it than just looks? Does the new XC90 offer something that its direct competitors do not?

2016 volvo xc90 t6 side front

Making a three row CUV look good is a challenge. There are proportions that are not always even due the space required for the second and third row occupants. The design has to be a blend of bubbly aerodynamics, perceived ruggedness, and modern styling. It has to appeal emotionally to men and women alike, yet remain functional and comfortable. The XC90 Volvo hits the very middle of that Venn diagram.

Inside, Volvo employed the best Swedish designers they could afford. The interior is very modern and airy, with some visible Range Rover influence. Big windows yield great visibility and allow plenty of light, which seems poetic as it was designed in a country with incredibly short winter days. Most knobs and buttons have been integrated into a big vertical iPad-like screen, for better or worse. Volvos always had fantastic seats and this vehicle is no different for the five primary occupants. The leather is soft, padding is almost perfect, and it even smells nice. The exceptions are the front seat headrests which are not adjustable and annoyingly, but in the name of safety, always press against the occupants’ occiputs.

The second row seat is divided 40:20:40 and each part slides forwards and backwards to allow more legroom for third row passengers. Each backrest folds independently allowing various cargo configurations. The two outboard seats have tilt-and-slide feature for third row access and the middle seat cleverly converts into kid booster seat. The third row consists of two separate seats that are best reserved for kids. None of this sliding, folding, and tilting is really revolutionary and several other makers have better ways of achieving those actions. There is a cargo cover but it can only be used with the third row is folded, and it is rather flimsy. All second and third row headrests can be dropped forward by pressing a button on the screen to allow better rearward vision – a handy Volvo feature.

2016 volvo xc90 t6 dash

The clean dash design has some downsides, however. The sole knob turns the audio volume up and down. To adjust the climate system, heat the seats or the steering wheel, even adjust parts of the seats, and seemingly turn anything else on or off, one must resort to using the screen. The good news is that similar features are grouped and the whole thing is rather easy to use after a brief study. The bad news is that the screen is prone to finger prints and is difficult to see in direct sunlight from the big side windows and sunroof. The test vehicle, with 16,000 miles, had what looked to be permanent finger swipe marks on its screen that were visible under certain angles – perhaps a replaceable smartphone-like screen cover would be a good idea?

The screen interfaces with the typical audio sources and works as a navigation system, too, with a secondary map in the gauge cluster. The problem is that this big screen mostly displays only one thing at a time, for instance: when the map is displayed, phone or audio controls are accessible. The only true pop-up is the temperature adjustment and seat heating/ventilation. A swipe to the left or right shows setting menus or various on/off soft-buttons that are typically scattered through the dash. While those are mostly secondary level controls, it’s impossible to develop any muscle memory to, for instance, disable the engine auto start/stop. This requires a swiping left (or was it right?) and tapping a soft-key which is somewhere in the second quadrant of the screen, unless the screen is scrolled down, which moves the button to somewhere else. Point is, accessing some features requires the driver to take eyes off the road, and that is not good.

2016 volvo xc90 t6 seating screen touch gauges dash

Part of the package is also Apple CarPlay, which at first glance seems very cool. First, you connect your iPhone to the Volvo via the USB port and answer some pop-up questions on the screen. At that time several of your apps become visible on the screen. Those are mostly audio apps, maps, and the typical call and text message buttons. Siri helps you make calls, reads your text messages, and helps you respond. Pandora works flawlessly, too. But not all apps are present, however. For instance the Sirius satellite radio app did not pop-up and neither did Waze, one of most driver-friendly apps ever created.

Furthermore, the CarPlay system is not fully integrated with the vehicle. For instance: you get a text message with an address, clicking it opens it in the map app. On the screen you can choose to set it as your destination but it does not default to the vehicle’s navigational system but rather stays on the Apple Maps app. If the car nav system is already running, the two systems will fight for your attention. Additionally, any audio from the non-supported apps will not be heard if an audio source other than the phone is selected. Finally, CarPlay won’t work wirelessly via Bluetooth; the phone has to be connected via USB.

No matter where your music comes from, the Bowers & Wilkins makes even crappy and low quality music sound great. While optional and rather pricey, it may be one of the best sounding audio systems on the market, at least to my ears. For the eyes there is a nifty head-up display but it is not visible through polarized sunglasses. Your sense of touch will be rewarded with really nice materials throughout the cabin but the overall sense experience is notch below BMW or Mercedes-Benz, and especially noticeable when closing the doors.

2016 volvo xc90 t6 seating seats trunk third row

Just about all premium three-row SUVs like this one drive really nicely. Gone are the days of SUVs rolling over in corners because the driver was going more than 5mph faster than the advisory speed limit. All these cars are quiet, comfortable, with handling that may have been considered sedan-like not too long ago. The problem is when automakers try to make them even sportier. This XC90 had the optional air suspension and it did a phenomenal job on a cruise from Boston to New York City. But in Manhattan, the 21-inch wheels with low profile, wide 275/40-21, tires simply transferred too many imperfections to the air suspension which couldn’t manage them, infrequently sending jolts through the vehicle. I think that smaller wheels and narrower tires would make a big improvement to ride quality anywhere where perfect roads do not exist. Volvo offers wheels from 19 to 22 inches in diameter on the new XC90, so choose wisely.

Volvo unimaginatively calls their new series of four-cylinder engines Drive-E. But what they really are is unlike any other four-banger out there. The engine on XC90 T6 is both supercharged and turbocharged and it works exactly how one would expect it to – the supercharger gives it solid low-end grunt while the turbo takes over at the higher engine speeds. The best way to describe this engine is that it feels like a healthy naturally aspired V6. I reviewed an S60 with this engine some time ago and I loved it.

This two-liter T6 gem is rated at 316hp and 295 lb-ft at 2200rpm, a horsepower-per-liter ratio reserved for sports cars not long ago. It pulls the 4400-pound XC90 at any engine speed, without any issues. There are no delays, no lags, and really no weak spots along the powerband. The eight-speed automatic transmission compliments the engine superbly. The XC90 T6 is EPA rated at 20 MPG in the city and 25 MPG on the highway, and that is pretty much what I got in real life. Tow rating is limited to 5000-pounds, which is about average for three-row CUV.

2016 volvo xc90 t6 side front top

The 2016 Volvo XC90 starts at $43,950. The T6 AWD starts at $48,900. Check off boxes for the Inscription trim (LED headlights, interior mood lights, leather all over, ventilated seats with extra adjustments, sun shades) at $5600, Vision Package (blind spot, 360-degree cameras) at $1600, Climate pack with HUD (head-up display, heated seats, steering wheel, and washer nozzles) at $1950, Convenience Package (adaptive cruise control, park assist, lane keep, HomeLink) at $1800, Bowers & Wilkins audio at $2500, Metallic paint at $560, booster seat at $250, 21″ wheels at $750, air suspension at $1800, and a destination charge of $995, and it sums up to $66,705, as seen in these pictures. Compared to other premium three-row SUVs, that is a lot more than a loaded Acura MDX or Infiniti QX60, a little bit more than a similarly equipped Land Rover LR4, but less than the BMW X5, Audi Q7, or the bigger Mercedes GLS.

About a year after its introduction, the XC90 is a common sight in the affluent sections of Boston and its suburbs. In my untrained perception it ties in popularity with the Mercedes-Benz GL/GLS and the Land Rover LR4 near school athletic fields. Unlike its competitors, the XC90, and perhaps the Volvo brand overall, represents the new quiet luxury. While many European brands have much stigma associated with them, a Volvo is inoffensive. Perhaps this is why while it was in my possession, the XC90 drew a ton of interest and generated more questions than any other SUV I ever reviewed. Clearly, Volvo has hit the target market with the XC90. Most importantly, it is damn good at what it was intended to be and it previews the future of independently designed Volvos.

2016 volvo xc90 t6 rear

Disclaimer: Volvo provided the vehicle for this review. All images copyright Kamil Kaluski/Hooniverse 2016.

  • dukeisduke

    What buyers are they trying to reach with their weird TV ads, like Wedding?



  • dukeisduke

    Personally, I find the XC90 very attractive, except for the dash, which reminds me of a Dodge Charger.

    • Great news! It’s not at all like the Dodge Charger!

  • Fred Talmadge

    I almost bought a Volvo just for the seats.

    • Sjalabais

      Which part let you down then?

      • Fred Talmadge

        The price. V60 was over 40g. Settled on a TSX wagon for 28g

        • Sjalabais

          That is an excellent argument for an armchair downgrade.

          • dead_elvis, inc.

            Or junkyard-seat upgrade to your current ride!

            • Sjalabais

              True. I know 240 seats are among the early things to disappear in junkyards, if the owner hasn’t taken them out prior to giving it up. But how does that work with today’s fancy seats, with possibly airbags, heating, ventilation and all sorts of directional motors in it?

              • dead_elvis, inc.

                Beats me. 29 y.o. 240 seats are in dire need of replacement, and I’m happy just to have a comfy place to park my butt. I don’t need any of the electric stuff functional.

        • SSurfer321

          It appears you shopped new V60 vs. used TSX.

          I own a V60, purchased “new” (demo car). It’s been fantastic for 50k miles. Couldn’t cross shop the TSX as no new cars were on the lots. Didn’t want german wagon.

          • Fred Talmadge

            Well it was new 2 years ago. A slow seller that was easy to deal on.

    • dead_elvis, inc.

      I’ve been seriously considering picking up some junkyard V70 seats & then figuring out how to retrofit them to my 240.

      • I’m seriously considering finding any leather volvo seats and retrofitting them in my company Chryco T&C. which has truly awful seats.

  • nanoop

    Those are really popular here, and inspire me to the Hooniverse Asks: Which DRL are really cool/annoying/ugly/stylish.
    The particular example here (horizontal lines across the headlight unit) reminds me of the slotted headlamp covers used in WW2 to make driving cars harder to spot from an Avro Lancaster.
    The touch screen UI is something I would rather not have as extensive as here.
    The option packaging is slightly dumb, as always: when I need heated seats I’ll get a HUD, thanks.
    Probably just social envy reflexes I’m showing here, I am sure most of the owners are happy.

    • Any DRLs that are bright enough to allow an idiot driver to think that they are driving with their lights on after dark are the worst.

      • nanoop

        Psst, don’t answer yet!

      • dead_elvis, inc.

        How about not illuminating the dash/instruments/buttons unless the headlights are on? I think that would solve the majority of after dark DRL-only cases.

        • nanoop

          My 2011 Skoda is doing that, I am naive and thought that is common practice?

          • dead_elvis, inc.

            I’m under the impression that most contemporary vehicles illuminate the dash any time the DRLs are on, instead of accompanying the actual headlights. This is purely from the number of idiots I observe operating with nothing more than the DRLs after dark.

            • nanoop

              I thought they were idiots on their own behalf, not mediated by automotive UI designers.
              Village idiot responsible for ergonomic design? Never heard about that!

        • dukeisduke

          I see plenty of cars with only DRLs, or no lights at all, after dark. The problem is that instruments nowadays are either electroluminescent (completely dark when not lit), or LED-backlit, so are on all the time. Both of our Toyotas (the ’08 Sienna has the electroluminescent “Optitron” gauges, and the ’13 Tacoma is LED-backlit) have a headlight on indicator, but it’s really not enough – they should both have automatic headlights, or more of a warning that lights aren’t on after dark.

          • dead_elvis, inc.

            That’s why I’d prefer if nothing on the dashboard lights up unless the headlights (not DRLs) are on.

            I guess it’s too much to hope for people to pay attention adequately.

        • kogashiwa

          My IS300 does that. I always have the headlights set to auto though so it doesn’t matter. Maybe cars with DRLs (should be all of them. #fact) ought to have auto headlights required as standard?

          • Alff

            What do you mean, it should be all of them? Don’t all contemporary vehicles have them, .leaving only those from some bygone pre-DRL era without? Are you suggesting a mandatory retrofit? Egads!

            • kogashiwa

              Hm is my information out of date – in Canada they’ve been mandatory for a very long time* – for some reason I thought in the US they weren’t? Retrofit wouldn’t matter here by now as practically every vehicle has them already.

              Was just saying I support DRLs is all. Have never understood the aversion a lot of people seem to have to having their headlights on in the day.

              *when I imported my MR2, to meet regulations I had to have the fog lights wired up as DRLs. Got to keep my pop-ups where they belonged.

              • Alff

                I assume that all new cars in the U.S. have them, judging from watching traffic. I could be wrong, my newest car is 10 years old (and has them), as does the 11 year old. The other, older cars do not.

                • wunno sev

                  nope! 2016 vehicle owner here, no DRLs.

                  • dead_elvis, inc.

                    What is it?

      • Alff

        Are you calling me an idiot? I think you’re calling me an idiot. Seriously, I despise the Subaru’s DRL implementation because there is no difference in brightness when compared to headlights AND the dashboard is always illuminated. The only thing the headlight switch does is turn on the tails. They should call it a taillight switch. I’ve been pulled over for failing to notice.

  • Sjalabais

    Neat review, I especially like the part about digital integration. The thing about addresses and competing nav-systems seems so mind-bogglingly obvious, I struggle to understand how this is not solved? Is this so cutting-edge that we’re just not there yet? We used Google maps on the phone in Oslo during our vacation, my wife hadn’t tried the app for navigation before – so simple.

    Also, the eternal car review question: Would you pick it over the competition? Would you if it was your own money? Or does it just not compete with a 4runner?

    • nanoop

      Automotive HW/SW seems to be at least three years old on a new car, probably due to testing. Once roadworthy, manufacturers try treating them like wiper motors and reuse them for a decade, it seems.

    • Completely different animal than the 4Runner.
      Its closest competitors seem to be the Q7 and X5. That would be a tough choice. I honestly don’t know which I’d go with. Probably the LR4 because I’m an idiot.

  • Alff

    This is a question for the less curmudgeonly… what rich part of the modern driving experience am I missing by not having an internet-connected vehicle? I’ve got a friend who is convinced that there is a market for retrofitting connected touchscreens in older vehicles. As a driver of said vehicles exclusively, I just don’t see it.

    • I really like nav that tells me traffic congestion and suggests ways around it. I also listen to satellite radio. Both of these are available on your phone and are superior to most in-dash systems.

    • Vairship

      The rich part of the modern driving experience you’re missing out on by not having an internet-connected vehicle is having to somehow get an antivirus program loaded on your car!

      Seriously, a modern smart phone or tablet would be much better than trying to retrofit a “connected touchscreen” into a classic car’s dashboard.

  • Bob Jackson

    Those of us in the Volvo service department don’t see this vehicle as “ready for market”.

    • wunno sev

      haven’t you guys been feeling that way since, like, 1997?

      • Bob Jackson

        Honestly, we’ve had about the same amount of (what I like to call) “Birth defects” as any other auto manufacturer. But with the release of the ’16 XC90, we’re sitting here in the trenches getting pounded by unhappy customers with brand new broken cars. I get reminded by each of them how much they’ve spent on the car and how it makes them feel when everyone at the country club watches and points as their shiny new car gets a piggyback ride on a tow truck…. and it’s all due to software.